Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Happiness: a history

by Darrin M. McMahon

A survey of the evolving definitions of "happiness" in Western thought — not, as you might expect, dealing with psychology, but rather in terms of mythology/religion, philosophy, sociology, a touch of linguistics, and even a bit of zoology (happiness being one of the things that distinguishes man from the other animals). Some examples: in ancient Greece, happiness was a matter of fate or luck; the spread of Judeo-Christian values gave rise to the notion that happiness could be achieved through virtuous living; in modern times people think happiness is mankind's natural state, that we are entitled to happiness, that we simply need to eliminate the physical and/or psychic barriers that are keeping us from being happy.

I found this book intensely interesting, but it was slow reading. I got about halfway through, took a break and read some fluffy teen fiction, then went back and finished. I'd only recommend this book to someone who's certain s/he wants to read philosophy and intellectual history; dabblers should look elsewhere.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Children of Hurin

by J.R.R. Tolkien

Unless you're a nut-case, skip the introductory stuff, which will be especially confusing for those who haven't read The Silmarillion. Otherwise, this is a nice stand-alone novella of Middle Earth. The action takes place well before anything in the trilogy, and it won't add much to the experience if you're planning to read or re-read the trilogy. But like I said, it's a fine story, worth reading even if you're not a hardcore Rings fanatic.

P.S.: Sorry I haven't posted in so long. Busy with other stuff, yadda-yadda-yadda. I'll try harder.

Call Me by Your Name

by André Aciman

The first review of this book that I read made it sound really boring — and I am totally OK with books in which not much happens, so it must have sounded re-e-eally boring. I don't recall what tipped me over the edge, but it may have been the sexy cover:

Interesting, isn't it, how an image can be non-explicit and yet somehow sexier than if it were? But I digress...

I really didn't want to read another book about a teenage queer boy and the older (but not much older) man who changed his life. But I'm glad I did. The writing is just lovely, and the emotions are rendered with an intensity and realism that overshadow the plot's un-originality. The book is mostly about the build-up, the excruciating anticipation; then the short-lived explosiveness of the thing itself; and ultimately the book tries be original by tacking on a completely unnecessary chapter showing how one of the lovers never totally gets over it.

I was about to say the book is slim, so the unnecessary epilogue-y bit doesn't ruin it, but I checked online and it's 248 pages. It sure didn't seem that long, which means I must have been reading it quickly, which is kind of odd for a book that's mostly about anticipation — but maybe it isn't. The author writes about one's sense of time being affected by feelings of anticipation and desire, and I must have had an experience similar to the character's. I guess this book is more original (in quality, if not in content) than I thought. (Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure one of the reviews said something to that effect, which means I'm not being original. It's a vicious, vicious circle, isn't it?)